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Are the largest fashion retailers in the UK creating best-in-class customer experiences? Put simply: no! We analyzed the post-checkout, shipping and returns processes of the top 100 fashion retailers. We discovered that customer centricity ends post-checkout. Once a customer checks out, they are left on their own.
Firstly, it is clear that fashion retailers have invested greatly in customer acquisition. However, they are falling short in their retention strategies. Indeed, a loyal customer is not gained prior to checkout but at the end of the buying journey. And did you know that research shows that around 40% of retailers’ revenue comes from these loyal, repeat customers. In fact, they only represent 8% of all visitors.
So, are fashion retailers utilizing this untapped marketing channel post-checkout to create loyal customers and increase revenue? As a specialist in post-checkout communication, we have analyzed the logistics services of 100 UK fashion retailers. We placed orders with 100 online shops, and documented the standard of service each retailer provided. Specifically, we took note of checkout and beyond.
Retailer communication usually begins at checkout. So, for this reason, the analysis of the 100 fashion retailers will start here.
Our mystery shoppers documented in detail which shipping and handling options retailers offer, alternative payment methods, how the retailers communicate delivery times and whether shipping is charged.
Crucially, most retailers focus heavily on the customer journey prior to checkout, i.e. the acquisition of the customer. They attempt to eliminate any potential conversion blockers and make the customer journey as smooth as possible. As a result, we would expect this area to be exemplary for our 100 fashion retailers. However, we found a large number of post-checkout conversion killers throughout the checkout process of the UK’s largest fashion retailers.
Selection of preferred delivery provider post-checkout
None of the top 100 fashion retailers allowed the customer to choose their preferred courier. Instead, the customer’s parcel is assigned a carrier chosen by the retailer.
Which carriers do the 100 fashion retailers use?
Interestingly, it is not common practice for a UK retailer to display their logistics partners in their website footer. However, in other countries, such as Germany, this is commonplace. Indeed, only 36% of the top 100 fashion retailers displayed this information somewhere on their site. When this is displayed, it is often hard to find.
The below figure shows the delivery companies chosen by the 100 fashion retailers for our orders. It goes without saying that the retailers will also use other delivery companies.
Hermes is the most popular, with 50% of the retailers choosing their service. The second most popular is Royal Mail and the third DPD.
Why is carrier choice important?
The results so far are surprising when you consider that most consumers have a preferred carrier that they trust to meet their needs. Indeed, in a survey conducted by Money Saving Expert, shoppers voted DPD their favourite carrier, with 65% of those surveyed describing their service as ‘great’. Interestingly, Hermes was ranked as 10th out of 13 carriers, with only 31% rating the service as ‘great’.
Yet, the above results show that retailers are favouring Hermes’ services, potentially at the detriment of their customers’ happiness.
Therefore, by not providing customers with their choice of carrier, retailers are potentially adding unnecessary frustrations to the customer journey. Implementing this choice is something retailers should consider to avoid customer service enquiries from disgruntled customers further down the line.
Guest checkout is normally an option post-checkout
Guest checkout is available for 81% of the fashion retailers. For the remaining 19% we were either forced to register before checkout or during. It is encouraging that the majority of retailers allow their customers to guest checkout. This option is particularly important when the user has first contact with the website/brand as they are often wary of providing personal data upfront. In fact, countless studies have found that when guest checkout isn’t an option, this can break the buying process and cause cart abandonment.
Offering alternative delivery options is standard
Interestingly, the majority of retailers give customers a variety of choice when it comes to delivery options post-checkout. In fact, just 3 of the fashion retailers surveyed only offer standard home delivery. Having 3 alternatives is the most popular option, with 44% of retailers falling into this category.
Number of alternative delivery options offered
Offering three alternative delivery options is most popular among the fashion retailers. However, Special or Next-day delivery is the most common alternative delivery option (81 retailers) post-checkout. This is closely followed by in-store collection (74 retailers). Collection from parcel shops such as Doddle and Collect+ is becoming more popular, with over half of the retailers offering this.
One-off delivery payment creates customer loyalty
In the last few years, the retail space has seen an increase in subscription delivery services or “delivery passes”. This model allows the retailer to charge a one-off fee for delivery which then grants the customer free delivery (often next day) for the rest of the year. Of the 100 fashion retailers surveyed, 22 offered delivery passes, with the cost varying from £3.50 to £20.00. Also, the most popular price was around £9.95.
These passes are a great way to retain customers. Often the customer has forgotten about the one-off cost after their first purchase and then they are encouraged to keep shopping with the retailer as delivery is ‘free’ with no minimum order value. And, these passes create the convenience that shoppers crave post-checkout.
Delivery passes are becoming more popular
Almost all of the fashion retailers offer express delivery (93 out of 100), with costs ranging from £1.00 to £19.95; on average, customers pay £6.55 for express shipping. Only 9 of the 100 retailers offer same-day delivery and, when this is offered it is at a high price (average £10.41). For all 7 retailers, same-day delivery is time restricted. For all but one retailer, same-day delivery is geographically restricted, usually to London.
The lack of same-day delivery being offered is not seen as an issue. This is because it has been found that customers value being kept up to date about their delivery more than receiving it that day. Indeed, providing same-day delivery is an almost unachievable option for retailers, especially countrywide.
So, if it’s up-to-date communications customers want, is this what they are getting? Keep reading to see how the UK fashion retailers perform…
Express and same-day delivery
The majority of UK fashion retailers offer express delivery; very few offer same day.
Weekend delivery is not always advertized post-checkout
57 of the 100 retailers advertise weekend delivery as a separate option. It is likely that many of the other retailers deliver at weekends, but they do not offer this as a guarantee, instead including it in their standard or next-day delivery options.
For example, we chose standard delivery for our order from Flannels and were given an estimation between the 23rd and 29th August. The order was delivered on the Saturday in this date range. Not having a separate weekend option is not ideal for customers as, in the case of 43 of the 100 retailers, if they are ordering something they definitely want to receive at the weekend, they cannot guarantee this.
Time slot delivery rarely offered post-checkout
Only 16 of the 100 fashion retailers offer timeslot for delivery. Some carriers offer this option once out for delivery, e.g. Paack for Zara, however the customer cannot guarantee that the retailer will use a carrier that offers this. And, only 16% of retailers allow customers to choose a time slot for delivery.
This could be problematic if a customer is ordering something and cannot be in all day to receive it. Instead of guaranteeing when their parcel will arrive and being home then, they must leave it to chance that they will be able to receive the parcel. In particular, this is true if customers are having parcels delivered to workplaces. Some carriers deliver as late at 9pm now and there will be no one in the office to receive it if this is the case.
Retailers wary to give exact delivery date
Firstly, only 31% of retailers give customers an exact delivery date, with the vast majority (57 retailers) giving a predicted date range (e.g. 3-5 working days). The remaining 14 give the customer no prediction at all.
Similarly, as timeslot delivery, customers want to know when their parcel is arriving so they can make sure they are there to receive it. Customers very easily feel in the dark if they are not given a set delivery date, especially if they have ordered for a particular occasion. This can lead to an increase in customer service enquiries and unhappy customers. Therefore, giving an exact delivery date means the customer feels assured that it will arrive on time.
Fashion retailers promote minimum spend
Excitingly, despite various studies showing that shipping costs are a major conversion killer, the UK’s largest fashion retailers rarely offer free shipping. Indeed, only 12 out of 100 retailers offer free shipping with no restrictions.
And, the majority of retailers (65 out of 100) waive shipping costs above a Minimum Order Value (MoV), varying in this study from £24.99 to £200. Also, when delivery is charged, this can vary from £2.99 to £7.50, with the average amount being £4.46.
Few offer easy payment options
Crucially, customers, especially those purchasing from fashion retailers, want a quick and easy journey to purchase. Think one-click purchases from Amazon and you see the standard they seek. The longer a retailer makes the customer journey, the more time the customer has to convince themselves they don’t need the purchase, so speed is of the essence.
That being said, very few fashion retailers offer quick, easy payment methods. Only 19 of the 100 retailers offer Apple/Google pay – the quickest payment method at a click of a button. For those retailers that offer in-app purchases (48 out of 100 retailers), this payment method should be provided without a doubt. App purchases are made on the go and the customer may not have their card details to hand, which could terminate the purchase.
Also, a new payment method we are seeing being introduced is Amazon Pay, where the customer can purchase the item using their Amazon log in details. The order and tracking will appear then in their Amazon account. The same theory applies here as offering guest checkout. By offering the customer a familiar name where they don’t have to reshare their data, the retailer is creating trust of their brand with that customer. Currently, only 9 of the 100 retailers offer this, but we expect more will adopt this soon.
The rise of try now, pay later!
Firstly, try before you buy provider Klarna has shot onto the retail scene in recent years, offering customers the option to purchase online and try the clothes on without the money leaving their account. We are now seeing several businesses offering similar services, as well as retailers offering their own store card version.
Indeed, 31 of the fashion retailers offer try now, pay later payment options, 18 of which is provided by Klarna. These payment services offer customers a way to afford apparel prior to payday, playing into the fast, instant fashion model. For this reason, we expect to see this trend continue to rise.
Post-purchase customer support
Prior to our study in early 2019 into the UK e-commerce market, there was very little empirical research into the behaviour of UK retailers after the customer buys. The following section of results will therefore look at this in detail, including whether the parcel was delivered within the promised delivery window, how the retailer communicates with their customer, where/if parcel tracking in located and how returns are processed.
Shipping communication: Do fashion retailers keep the customer informed?
Post-checkout, most retailers do not keep their customers up to date about the status of their order. Although all the fashion retailers send out an order confirmation, most customers are often left to their own devices to track their parcel during shipping; almost all retailers go silent!
Also, 14 retailers do not include a tracking link in their dispatch confirmation, meaning that the customers rely on either the carrier contacting them with a link or they do not receive one at all.
Additionally, the majority (60 out of 100 retailers) of customers are directed to the carrier’s Track & Trace page. Only 1 in 4 retailers direct customers to a branded Track & Trace page and these are rarely hosted in the retailers’ domain.
Shockingly, for 20 retailers, the Track & Trace page displayed an error message ‘Shipment number not found’ or something similar. This is frustrating for the customer and will no doubt lead to a higher number of customer service enquiries about the whereabouts of their parcel. This error is usually caused by a delay in data being sent to the delivery carrier from the retailer, meaning that they do not know about the shipment yet.
Availability of Track & Trace page
Track & Trace page available immediately for 66% of retailers. And, a minute 2 retailers out of 100 communicate with their customers directly during shipping. A further 5 share this communication with the carrier. Also, this means only 7 retailers out of 100 are actively communicating with their customers during shipping. For the remaining 93 retailers, the customer either receives no communication at all or receives shipping updates directly from the carrier.
Who communicates with the customer during shipping?
Communication during shipping is most often left to the carrier. In fact, only 1 retailer sends personalized shipping communicates to the customer. There is clearly a huge amount of room for improvement for UK retailers to utilise this untapped marketing channel. Furthermore, only 3 retailers included any sort of ad in their shipping communication and these were generic and non-personalized to the customer for 2 of them. The only retailer that included personalized products recommendations in the dispatch confirmation was Zalando. As such, 97 retailers are missing out on the opportunity to increase revenue by showcasing further products to existing customers in their emails.
Is shipping communication branded and personalized?
Almost all retailers send generic shipping communication. 6 retailers do not send a shipping confirmation and 80 out of 100 retailers end communication with the customer immediately after the dispatch notification. Only 14 retailers send 2 or more messages including shipping confirmation.
Also, delivery carriers communicate more with customers, with 50 sending 2 or more messages to the customer. Surprisingly, 19 carriers did not send any communication to the customer during shipping. This means that these customers were left entirely in the dark about the whereabouts of their parcel from both the retailer and the carrier.
Clearly, UK fashion retailers have a long way to go to provide customers with the volume of communication they expect, whether from the retailer or the carrier.
Number of messages including shipping communication
Retailers send limited communication during shipping. 75 out of the 100 retailers display shipping information in the customer account, whether this be status updates or tracking links. However, of these, 42 did not keep the information up to date. Many accounts were left saying “in transit” when the parcel had been delivered.
What do these findings mean for retailers?
Firstly, when you consider that 100% of retailers communicate with their customer at checkout (e.g. order confirmation), the drop off rate to only 7 retailers actively communicating during shipping is even more surprising. This means that 93% of retailers are ignoring customers when they are at their most highly engaged.
Instead, they are leaving the communication in the control of the carrier. This means no branding, no customer experience and no control of what the customer sees. What’s more, 97% of retailers are not providing any product recommendations in their post-checkout communication. When you consider that opening rates of these emails are upwards of 60%, the retailers are missing out on creating millions of additional touchpoints and equal amounts of revenue.
Delivery promises are mostly kept!
In fact, UK fashion retailers keep their delivery promise almost all of the time. Indeed, for 85 out 86 retailers who gave a prediction, the parcel arrived early or during the predicted delivery period. Only 1 parcel arrived later than promised. And, the final 14 retailers did not give a delivery prediction.
Punctuality of delivery
Delivery promise is kept more often than not in the UK. For 60% of the orders, a notification of successful delivery was received. However, in only 7 cases did this come from the retailer. And, the remaining 53 notifications came from the carriers via either email or SMS. Whether the retailer communicated discrepancies in the delivery date was not possible to report in the test.
Returns processing differs
The 100 fashion retailers differ in their returns offerings. The most popular option is in-store returns, with 64% of the fashion retailers offering this. The second most popular option was returning by Royal Mail, with 51% of retailers including a prepaid label in the box. On the other hand, 11 of the 100 retailers expect customers to arrange the return themselves.
Interestingly, 85 of the 100 retailers offer free returns. The other 15 retailers either ask the customer to pay for postage or deduct the return cost from the refund amount. And, when the retailer charges rather than asking the customer to pay for postage, this is between £2.50 and £3.99.
Processing of returns
In-store returns are the most popular option, followed by Royal Mail label in parcel. Interestingly, the most popular number of returns options offered by the 100 retailers is 2, with 40 out of 100 retailers falling into this category. This is followed closely by 3, with 33 retailers offering this many options.
Acknowledgement of return
Almost all fashion retailers inform their customers that they have received their return. Also, most of the retailers (76 out of 100) provided the customer with a time frame for remittance. This varied from 24 hours to 14 days. The most common time frame was three to five days.
Notification of predicted reimbursement period
76% of retailers let their customer know when the refunded money will arrive in their account. Also, in 94 of the 100 returns, the retailer communicates with the customer during the process. For the remaining 6 orders, we received no returns communication.
Who communicates during returns?
94% of retailers communicate with the customer during returns. That being said, most retailers (71 out of 100) only sent 1 message during returns; this was usually the refund confirmation. As such, the returns communication of the top 100 fashion retailers has a long way to go to meet the expectations of their customers.
Number of messages received from retailer during returns
Firstly, communication is limited during returns. The majority of the fashion retailers (92 out of 100) reimburse their customers within three days of sending the returns confirmation. Further, 3 retailers took between four and seven days to refund the money. And, the remaining 5 retailers did not inform us when the parcel was returned to them and hence, we could not track this.
Remittance time frame
92 out of 100 retailers refund the money within 3 days. When retailers informed our researchers how long it would take to receive the remittance, the customer received the money either earlier than expected (38) or as expected (38). And, a surprising 24 retailers did not give the customer a time frame for refund.
Punctuality of the remittance
Most retailers refunded customers quicker than or as promised. The fashion retailers are almost split when it comes to requesting reviews. 55 out of 100 retailers do not ask for a review of their service or the product. Those retailers that do ask for a review usually ask for either a product review or a service review (19 vs 20).
Did the retailer give a discount code?
36 out of 100 retailers provided discount codes post-checkout. The majority of these were referral schemes, where the customer will receive say 10% off their next order if they refer a friend who orders from the retailer. Very few retailers gave discount codes with no restrictions, with the customer either having to refer a friend, create an account or leave a review to receive a code.
Discount codes are a great way to promote repeat purchases, so it is interesting that retailers are holding back on giving them. The best we saw that promoted repeat purchases post-checkout was from Next, who gave free shipping if the customer ordered within 30 minutes.
The study shows that although the quality of service provided by retailers prior to checkout is very good, communication and customer retention break down post-checkout. Most retailers are matched in their service offerings pre-checkout, but there are much higher discrepancies post-purchase.
Overall, retailers provide customers with very little flexibility when it comes to shipping and returns. A surprising number of retailers charge large amounts for shipping or only offer one or two options to the customer. The same can be said for returns options – retailers are limiting the convenience of returns and making their customers work for it.
Also, with a large majority of customer service enquiries being placed post-checkout, UK fashion retailers need to acknowledge this area of the customer journey. A smooth post-checkout experience is paramount for customer loyalty, retention and repeat purchases.
And, delivery and returns are no longer just logistics issues. The shipping process impacts Marketing and Customer Service. Therefore, brands and retailers must extend their marketing and customer service strategy into and during the delivery window.
Read the full fashion report
We researched the UK’s top 100 retail fashion brands to shed light on the standard of customer experience. Read it now.